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2010 Smile Survey Measures Children's Oral Health in Pierce County

April 14, 2011

Today the Washington State Department of Health issued a press release announcing the results of the 2010 Smile Survey. Taken every five years, the Smile Survey monitors the current state of children’s oral health. Concurrently, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has released results of the Smile Survey specific to Pierce County. The report can be accessed here.

Oral health plays an important role in the overall health of children and can impact the quality of their life both now and into adulthood. Sealants and fluoride are highly effective measures in preventing dental decay and protecting children from dental disease that can lead to pain, infection, growth and development problems, and poor school performance. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department hopes the Smile Survey acts as a catalyst to parents, education leaders, and community groups to prioritize dental health for Pierce County children.

Survey Results

Some of the measures included in the survey reflect children’s access to professional dental services. These include the percent of elementary school children with untreated decay and the percent of 3rd graders with dental sealants. These rates in Pierce County did not change between the 2005 and 2010 survey. However, there was an improvement among children of color showing a successful reduction of racial disparities.

The survey also highlights the prevention of dental decay, measured by the prevalence of decay (treated or untreated) in seven or more teeth. On this measure, Pierce County results improved, showing a significant decrease of widespread decay, from 39% to 21% among 3rd graders. This decline of roughly 20 percentage points was consistent across all subgroups of race and socioeconomic status.

While on a whole the results show improvement, too many Pierce County children are still experiencing dental decay, which is a preventable condition. Another concern is the disparities in dental services. Racial disparities were decreased; however low-income students were more likely to have untreated decay and were less likely to have sealants than other children. There are a number of programs available in Pierce County to meet the oral health needs of children and their families. These include:

  • Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) securing dental care for Medicaid-eligible children under age six.
  • School-Based Oral Health connecting community dental providers with public schools to provide oral health services.
  • Project Homeless Connect, a one-day service fair for the homeless providing free dental services for children and adults.
  • Maternal and Child Health Program educates low-income families about oral health practices as part of home visiting programs.
  • Low Cost Dental Providers referrals.

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